A Twist of the Taleidoscope


Tree of Knowledge
Tree of Knowledge © Storm Thurgerson

I’m a guest today of fellow mystery writer Marja McGraw on her new website, writing about a twist on an old mantra. Here’s the lead-in:

The Golden Rule of “write what you know” is embedded in my DNA. That’s my only explanation for how I came to write “Three Little Bears Visit New York City” before I hit kindergarten. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me; after all, if people go to the woods on vacation, why wouldn’t a bear go to town?

And New York City was a place I knew something about. My maternal grandfather had been a photographer in New York, and my father talked about how different “the big city” was from upstate New York where he’d been born.  I used to watch my dad doing the New York Times crossword puzzle (in ink!).  So the name, the place, was embedded in my consciousness early on.

(Does Marja’s name seems familiar? It should! I’ve featured her work here on my site recently. Read the first here and more recently, here.) I hope you’ll stop by http://marjamcgraw.blogspot.com/ and read the rest. I’ll be back here in a few days with a new post.

p.s. For the curious: “taleidoscope” is not a typo! Unlike a kaleidoscope (which has brightly colored images), a taleidoscope uses mirrors and a lens to reflect the world around us.


Snickers: It’s All in the Name

This is the first of a new feature in which writers and fans share stories about their pets. Today’s guest is Barbara Alexander, a retired librarian who now celebrates the written word as a professor, reader, and blogger.


Snickers:  It’s All in the Name

When I was 66 years old, I decided it was time to have a pet, a dog, so she could snuggle next to me, I could spend hours petting her, and we could go on walks. That’s how I came to adopt Snickers Molly Price Tchotchke Houdini Alexander.

Snickers & me (Apr 2, 2011
Snickers & me (Apr 2, 2011)

My search for a rescue dog began with visits to the animal shelter several times over a few weeks, looking for adoption options. One Saturday, my daughter and I made the rounds of three pet adoption sites.  When we walked into the third one, I saw Snickers, then known as Molly, and I immediately reached down and picked her up as if I knew what I was doing. The poor little thing was shaking, and I held her close to my chest and my heart. She gradually calmed down and with her eyes asked me the eternal question, “Are you my new mommy?”

As part of my bargain with myself to manage taking on a pet, I gave up candy, so I named my puppy Toffee. Apparently no one liked or could remember the name, so we had a family council with suggestions from everyone. After mulling over it, I decided on my granddaughter’s suggestion, Snickers, for my puppy sports the same coloring.

I wouldn’t want to brag about my dog, but Snickers can run faster, drink louder, make more friends, and lick more people than probably just about any other dog in the world. When we’re out for walks, she wants to greet every person and meet just about every dog. She made special friends with the neighbors I never knew, quickly convincing us she preferred people to dogs.

This bright, endearing little pup fears dangers in the sky (hot air balloons and cherry pickers) and checks to see if there is a parallel world at the other end of the toilet.  Snickers boasts her own dresser drawer of toys because she claimed it by opening the drawer on her own. She hides under my bed when the heat or air conditioning comes on, when she hears loud noises, and especially if she thinks I might be leaving. Happily, Snickers likes to be near me but also gives me personal space. Perhaps best of all, Snickers knows when I don’t feel well, and she licks my sore and achy spots (usually my left toes and ankle (thank you, Snickers!).

A reader might wonder about Snickers’ very long name. Price is for my cousins Trudy and Jerry Price, who convinced me I should have a pet after one of my visits with them and their pet-filled household. I added Price to Snickers’ name soon after I adopted her to recognize their role in my adopting Snickers, and soon after both Trudy and Jerry passed, Tchotchke seemed to be a fit.  Could there have been a better token of love than my little Snickers?

My daughter, her husband, and their daughter gave Snickers the Houdini moniker. They kept her one weekend when I was away, that is, they tried to keep her contained, but she would have none of it. Anne and Tom thought Snickers would stay in the same room in the basement where they had kept their chocolate lab, Ginger. Of course, Snickers wanted to get out and be with the family (she likes people!). While Ginger had stayed behind the French doors, Snickers pushed on them until they opened. Tom built a wall of boxes at the other opening into the pet room; Snickers jumped it, nosed it, and found her way through, surprising all three of the family members at one time or another.

Snickers (Age 2)

In the very same way, jumping, nosing, seeking, Snickers has become my family, so much so that I have caught myself addressing my younger granddaughter as “Snickers.”  Fortunately, that young woman understands grandmothers and pets, and remains very understanding. My older granddaughter noted Snickers and I share some of the same characteristics; I knew we were both very determined, both like snacks, both like to solve challenges (someday she will open the patio door!), and both take naps. We even look alike in one way, as the granddaughter pointed out:  Snickers has a crook in her tail that reflects my slightly bent arthritic fingers.

My thanks to Barbara for sharing Snickers with us!  If you’d like to contribute a story, email me.  Meanwhile, be sure to check out Snicker’s latest adventures and other stories at Barbara’s blog, Doors and Windows, at bjatma.wordpress.com.

A Fabulous Book Club!

Libraries are one of the most magical places in the world for me, and yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting one of the libraries in the Carroll and Madison Library System. After I was invited to participate in the Books in Bloom Literary Festival, the Madison County (AR) Library’s book club chose my book and invited me to visit. What a fantastic group!

Madison County book club June 24 2014
Wonderful readers and fans of Deadly Ties!


The Madison County library, located in the mountain community of Huntsville, Arkansas, has the charm of a small-town gathering place in a well-equipped facility.  The Library Director, Billie Whorton, has created a warm, welcoming place for readers of all ages. The book collection is impressive, there’s plenty of study space (with computers), and the children’s area is downright fun! (I was sorry to miss the photo opportunity with the library’s robots Flexter and Rachette, created by the very talented Charlotte Holiday. In addition to all things literary, the library has a robust arts and science program.)

Flexter and Ratchet
Flexter and Ratchet

And the ladies of the club? Intelligent, enthusiastic, and passionate about reading–in short, a writer’s dream. They asked wonderful questions, discussed favorite points and plot lines, and clearly connected with my characters in the story. I absolutely loved it when I found out one of the members (known as “the book analyzer” because of her skillful reading) had gone all the way to the Bentonville/Rogers area just to pick up a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for us to enjoy during the discussion! (If you’ve read Deadly Ties you’ll know they’re mentioned in the book.) Thanks for the treat, ladies!

They were a marvelous audience and I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

The Madison County Library is located at 827 N. College Avenue in Huntsville, AR 72740. You can reach them by phone (479-738-2754), email (info@madisoncountylibraries.org), or visit them on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/nlc5asf). 


Labradors and Laughter

If you enjoy cozy mysteries that are just downright fun to read, you’ll definitely want to check out this re-release of Bogey’s Ace in the Hole, the second book in the Bogey Man Mysteries. (If you missed the first one in the series, check here). Bogey’s Ace is a humorous mystery starring  a Humphrey Bogart look-alike with a sleuthing family and their two Labrador Retrievers!

Bogey's Ace

Here’s what one reviewer says about Bogey’s Ace in the Hole:

In Bogey’s Ace in the Hole, Marja McGraw continues the adventures of reluctant sleuths, Pamela and Chris (the Bogey Man) Cross, but this time she adds a whole new dimension to the meaning of a the phrase, “The family who….”, when their son, Mikey, a seven-year-old going on twenty; and their two yellow Labrador Retrievers, Sherlock and Watson, typical dogs, more interested in eating treats than in behaving themselves, all get involved in helping a group of adorable, but outspoken, Church ladies solve a mystery that will have you laughing at their antics one minute and gasping in surprise the next. If you love a good cozy, this is one of the best.

Marja can be found at http://www.marjamcgraw.com/ and her mystery blog is now at http://www.marjamcgraw.blogspot.com/. Note: if you’ve bookmarked Marja’s sites before, you’ll want to update your links, as these are new!

Extraordinary Tales

Looking for a special gift for a dog lover? Here’s a suggestion: Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life With Dogs by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. In addition to being a freelance writer and a shelter volunteer, Rebecca is the founder of the Deja Foundation.  According to her bio on the foundation’s website, she shares her home with two rescued pit bulls. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why she was committed to publishing these stories.

Quoting directly from the front flap of the book jacket:

…Devoted tells the stories of dogs who are rescued, and who rescue in return. Meet Lily, an adopted pit bull who stood in front of an oncoming train to protect her fallen owner; or Faith, a chow chow mix who defied the odds to learn to walk on two legs.

From across the globe, each inspiring tale brings to light unparalleled displays of fortitude, faith, and love. Discover 38 heartwarming friends and experience first hand the bond that knows no bounds.

Published by the National Geographic Society and beautifully illustrated, Devoted is available from the National Geographic Society as well as IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Do you have a favorite rescue story? Share it with us via the comments. And if you have photos to share, you’re welcome to send them to dogmysteries@gmail.com to be included in the slideshow. Be sure to include the dog’s name with the photo!

Dogs are Bestsellers!

“Mystery, action, and humor … a great storyteller.”

Richard Houston, the bestselling author who visited with us last month, is making headlines again. His first two books in the “To Die For” mystery series are #1 and #2 bestsellers in the “cozy animal mystery” category on Amazon. The series features an amateur sleuth and his canine sidekick, a gorgeous Golden Retriever named Fred.  Congratulations, Richard; we’re excited for you!

Bestselling author Richard Houston does it again!
Bestselling author Richard Houston does it again!

In case you missed the May 5th post about Richard and his beloved dog Fred (who inspired the series), you can find it again here. (Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and have some time) you can browse backward through the posts on this page until you find Richard’s post. Plenty of great books–and dogs–to see along the way!

The first in the series is A View to Die Forand the second is A Book to Die For.  And now, Richard, the BIG question: how soon can we read book #3 in this great series?  I’m looking forward to more of Fred’s adventures with Jake!

A Different Kind of Dog Story

Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk. Photo © James Warnock
Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk. Photo © James Warnock

The Ozark Highlands Trail is not for the faint of heart. It’s 218 miles of trails crossing 165 miles of rugged terrain, with a good bit of it in the Ozark National Forest. Here’s the description from the Ozark Highlands Trail Association:

The trail passes through some of the most remote and scenic portions of the Ozark Mountains, like the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area. It also visits White Rock Mountain (best sunset in the Arkansas!), Hare Mountain, the Marinoni Scenic Area, Dead Dog Bluff, and countless other breathtaking spots.

I live in the Ozarks and over the years have hiked many a mile in the region. Late winter hikes are sometimes the best (less worry about snakes, and spectacular views through the leafless trees), but the trail is a magical place year round. And while my boots seldom hit the trails these days, I love to read the stories shared by hiking enthusiasts, photographers, and others who celebrate the wonders of the outdoors.

One of those hikers is Jim Warnock, whose blog is a feast for the spirit. When I read the story of how a dog came to be his new trail partner, I knew I had to let others know where to find this remarkable tale. The story began in mid-January and when Jim and his hiking partner, Bob, set off to complete the last leg of the trail. Here’s Jim:

A third hiking partner joined us on our first night out.  We were setting up camp at mile 138 when an emaciated black lab appeared.  We ignore her in hopes that she would reunite with her owners but the next day she quietly followed us for fourteen miles.  At the end of that day we gave in and shared some of our beef and turkey jerky.  These were limited rations because neither of us packed much extra food. Bob said, “If we’d known we’d have a dog, we would have packed some Alpo.”

This black lab demonstrated good outdoor skills as she curled up in a nest of leaves next to a log. The following morning we feared we were going to witness the death of this dog but she persevered and continued mile after mile with only limited rations from our small surplus of food.

Hiker on the OHT
“We feared we were going to witness the death of this dog.” Photo © James Warnock

There’s much more to the story, and you can read it here. And once you’ve read how the story began, take a look at Jim’s most recent posts and learn the 12 qualities that make this dog an ideal hiking partner. Here’s a photo Jim sent along for the slideshow, showing his new partner ready for her next adventure!

She’s ready to go! Photo © James Warnock

For more great photos and stories, view the slideshow at Jim’s blog. And then grab your boots and find a trail near you!

The Magic of the Ozarks

Hwy 7 National Scenic Byway near Jasper AR Photo by Tim Ernst (All rights Reserved)
Hwy 7 National Scenic Byway near Jasper AR just before sunrise  (Photo by Tim Ernst. All rights Reserved.)

Take one look at this photo by the famous photographer Tim Ernst and you’ll know why I say legends live on in the Ozarks Mountains.  It’s a place of magic and mystery, where ties run deep and stories and superstitions can linger for generations.

One such story is The Lady of the Valley, recounted in the book Ozark Tales and Superstitions by the late Phillip W. Steele. (You can get a copy online at IndieBound or  Amazon or at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum.) As the story is told:

A few years before he was married Jess Mcelhaney was returning home from an evening spent in the old town of Aurora. After being startled by an opossum scurrying across the road, Jess saw a bright light appear a few yards away; he stopped and gazed at it with an almost hypnotic stare. Within the bright halo of light he saw the figure of a young woman. She was dressed in a white dress and wore dark stockings. Her hair hung to her waist, and she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen–or ever would see. The lady was not carrying a lantern, yet she appeared to be completely encircled by light. Jess also recalls how he thought it most odd that his figure cast a shadow beneath the full moon but hers did not.

….During the past fifty years many other citizens of the area say they have had a glimpse of the beautiful lady in the valley. Most believe she rises at rare intervals from the old Aurora graveyard at the head of the valley and walks from there through the meadow. It is said that she only rises on warm nights when the moon is in its fullest stage.

This story and other Ozark tales are included in my series, which is set in the high Ozarks. In Book 2 of the series (due out later this year), you’ll learn about the ghosts of Eureka Spring’s Crescent Hotel (considered by many to be one of the most haunted hotels in the country), the Monster of Peter Bottom Cave, the Devil’s Teakettle, and more.

Let’s Get to Know Jerold Last

We’ve recently seen a growth in cross-genre and blended-genre fiction, and that includes the world of mystery fiction. Today’s featured author offers a different kind of mystery that draws upon seemingly diverse styles to create a solid series that’s sure to attract a wide range of readers.

Jerold Last, Author
Jerold Last, Author

Jerold (“Jerry”) Last is a college professor and a writer of mystery fiction that’s sure to attract dog lovers. At the University of California’s Medical School, he puts his Ph.D. in Biochemistry to work studying asthma and the effects of air pollution on the lungs. Off campus, he applies his research skills to writing the popular Roger and Suzanne mystery series.

The writing process seems to be a family affair. Jerry’s wife Elaine provides editing and technical advice for the novels. Elaine breeds prize-winning (conformation and hunt tests) German Shorthaired Pointer dogs, a breed that’s featured in the series. Both love to travel, and that’s evident in the locales featured in the series. Experience living in Argentina and Uruguay helped Jerry choose the South American locales for his fictional sleuths. His fifth novel in the series sends them to the Galapagos Islands, and I hear Alaska is the next location for this dynamic sleuthing duo.

Here’s Jerry, talking about his work:

I’ve been a big fan of mystery novels all my life.  I started reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in grade school.  Erle Stanley Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came next, before I hit my teens.   As I moved towards college and nominal adulthood, my favorites became the masters of the private eye genre, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.   I like the hard-boiled style, the role of the private detective as the hero, and the fast pace of the action as a complex plot unfolds.  It just seemed, one day, that I should try constructing the puzzles as well as trying to solve them.  And here I am.

I start with things I know—South America, California, German Shorthaired Pointer dogs, science, fictional California private investigators like  Roger, and scientists like Suzanne on the faculty of the University of California.   I start writing after the plot has had time to develop in my subconscious mind for a while.  Part of the way through, it takes on a life of its own and leads me wherever the characters want it to go.

My books are not traditional cozies, even though they routinely pop up on Amazon in the cozy category.  They’re better described as “tweeners” with a style that falls somewhere between cozy and hard-boiled.  You won’t find “bad words” (at least in English), and there are no gratuitous sex scenes in my books because I think they take away from the flow of plot and suspense.   However, there are pretty high body counts and scenes of violence in most of the novels and the novellas.

My target audience likes fast-paced action in “who done it” kind of mysteries. They like dogs, visiting interesting and unusual locations where exotic food is the norm, and a series format where they can revisit old friends in subsequent books.

 The Deadly Dog Show

Ever wondered what it’s like to own—or maybe it’s more like to be owned by—a  German Shorthaired Pointer?  Get your own tutorial in The Deadly Dog Show!  The seventh book in the series finds Roger and Bruce hired to go undercover impersonating the owner and handler of a Champion German Shorthaired Pointer named Juliet to investigate certain irregularities that might be occurring at dog shows in California.

Dog show cover copyTo complicate this case the bodies of dead judges start popping up and Suzanne picks up a mysterious stalker sending her most unwelcome gifts.  Throw in drug cartels and corrupt cops and it sounds like a typical job for our detective couple.

This suspenseful “whodunit” novel should appeal to mystery fans, dog lovers, and anyone who wants to learn more about the world of dog show competition. Read a Deadly Dog Show Excerpt.

Well done and captivating. I loved the character development and was truly drawn into the story with all of its twists and turns.

The Roger and Suzanne Mystery Series

The series includes five novels, two novellas, and an anthology of short stories to date, with more on the way! Here’s a list of what’s currently available exclusively on Amazon in Kindle editions. Locales are noted after each title.


The Ambivalent Corpse [Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay]

The Surreal Killer [Peru, Chile]

The Matador Murders [Uruguay, Chile]

The Deadly Dog Show [California, Texas, New York City] 

The Origin of Murder [Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands]


The Body in the Parking Structure [Los Angeles, California]

The Body in the Bed [Montevideo, Uruguay]

Five Quickies for Roger and Suzanne [Salta, Argentina; Fortaleza, Brazil; and Los Angeles, California ]. this is a novel-length anthology of shorter (“quickie”) stories featuring all of the characters from the popular South American mystery series!

Follow this author!

To see details of all Jerry’s work, visit his Amazon sales page. For a more personal look at the author and his family (and dogs!), check out his blog entitled “South American Mystery Novels and Stuff” at http://rogerandsuzannemysteries.blogspot.com. Drop by and leave a comment!